Karla Miller (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

Reader: I work in a school with a large staff, divided into 10 teams of eight. When there’s a wedding or baby, someone on the team collects money to buy a team gift. Whether it’s a team member or someone I don’t know, it’s the same contribution. For someone I know, I would like to buy a personal gift; for a passing acquaintance, I would send a card. I would feel odd knowing someone I didn’t know had been asked to pony up for me. Plus, the money is solicited, which seems to make gifts lose their meaning. I want to be a good sport, but this arrangement makes me feel unable to be generous in my own way. Should I continue to contribute equal amounts to all or just give gifts to people I know?

Karla: If the amount you give is up to you, decide on a painless standard donation and do something extra for those you know.

If you’re required to give a set amount, and it’s growing onerous, maybe you could propose a new team policy — for example, buying everyone the same creative, inexpensive token gift, like a toy or matching T-shirts with the school mascot.

The nice thing about gifts “from the gang” is that you don’t have to know who really meant it. I think it behooves our species to let every person — shy, popular, new in town — feel part of a community once in a while.


Reader: In the last six months, two co-workers have died. The day after the first death, all employees were forced to attend a three-hour meeting with a counselor. It was uncomfortable and miserable. It is fine that they offered it, but one should not be forced. I did not go to the first funeral because of a meeting I had to attend, and I was ridiculed by other employees. If it were a close friend, I would go. I sent cards and flowers to the families. I have tried to tell HR that we all grieve in our own way. I think this is the first time the company has dealt with death.

Karla: Offering counseling was compassionate; requiring it was inappropriate, even cruel. (“Come on, cry it out. I SAID CRY IT OUT.”) Sending group condolences is appropriate; press-ganging mourners into service is not.

If HR and management won’t listen to you, maybe you could speak privately with the hired counselor, who could educate them confidentially about the negative effects of mandatory mourning.

To co-workers who make an issue of your absence at funerals, say quietly, “Thank you for asking, but I need to grieve in private.” I can’t imagine what sort of person would then keep hectoring you. (Okay, I can imagine, but this magazine won’t print it.)

@Work Query: Are your youthful looks holding you back? Maybe I can help in an upcoming column. Send a photo and 150 words to: wpmagazine@washpost.com, subject line “Babyface.”

Karla Miller lives with her family in South Riding, Va. For 16 years, she has written for and edited tax publications. Send your questions to wpmagazine@washpost.com.